On Bill Conlin's Hall of Fame Nod

On Bill Conlin's Hall of Fame Nod

Legendary Philadelphia baseball writer Bill Conlin is heading into the Hall of Fame this weekend in Cooperstown, New York. Old One Chair is receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor for a baseball writer.

As a person who writes about sports solely on the Internet, I'm not supposed to really like Conlin. Or something like that. Truth be told, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading his columns over the years. The guy is a walking Phillies encyclopedia who can flat out write. As cliche as it is, Conlin is an institution. Sure, he's as curmudgeonly as humanly possible, but that's part of what makes him the undisputed elder statesman of Philadelphia sportswriters. I disagree with him on a few things, either the premise of an entire column or a line or two in a column I otherwise agree with. But while disagreeing, I'm rarely thinking, "Conlin is wrong."

If you send him an email to argue, you'll often get an argument. If you send him compliments, probably just a "Thank you." He's seen his share of controversy, including that time he evoked Hitler when discussing bloggers. He also didn't vote for Nolan Ryan to get into the Hall. What a dick.

Still, it's amazing that someone has written about sports so well for such a long time. Sure, he's not the first, but he's the guy in our city whom we've all read. To me, Conlin is about the stories, the minor anecdotes that show up in his columns. The stuff that it takes both a phenomenal memory and all those decades of experience to put on paper. He's been doing his job longer than most of us have been breathing. There's absolutely something to be said for longevity. He's 77 years old and could easily write for another decade. At least, I hope he does.

I can't remember things that happened two seasons ago and Conlin is not only spouting off the Phillies lineup from a random game against the Mets in 1967, he's also telling you which guy had the best quote that day.

Rich Hofmann does a wonderful job capturing Conlin in his column from yesterday's Daily News. It's a column that pays homage to the great writer, but also demonstrates just how much the craft of sports writing has changed over the years.

His goal was to tell his readers why, not what. He would shove the score into the game story, usually, but the rest was his personal canvas. If he wanted to write the whole story about a botched rundown in the fourth inning, peeling the sequence apart like an orange, he would.

In the clubhouse, the insights of the principals in the rundown would be recorded. But that was only the beginning. Because Conlin knew what he had seen but he also knew that there was a group of scouts and broadcasters and team executives gathered around a table and a cocktail in the press lounge at the Vet. Conlin would join them - to learn more, and because he was thirsty.

These days, you're lucky if one or two players even address the media in the Phillies clubhouse. Now, I'm far from a beat reporter, and about as green as it gets, but I get to my share of games at Citizens Bank Park, and I can't fathom sitting around drinking cocktails with such a group.

Then there's the strange hours and standing around:

Most baseball writers get to the park at 3 p.m. and begin reporting in the clubhouse soon after. By careful scientific measurement, approximately 82.6 percent of that time is a complete waste of time, but you do it for the other 17.4 percent of the time when something might actually happen.

It's so true. The first couple of times I ever covered a baseball game last season, I was baffled by the amount of standing around. Initially, I thought it was all so unproductive. I could have been blog, blog, blogging away about something rather than standing around in the dugout watching batting practice.

But then at a certain point it started to make sense. In the midst of all of this standing around, you'd get an anecdote about Charlie Manuel throwing batting practice, or the time he went out to dinner with George Steinbrenner back in the 70's. Or you catch Shane Victorino riding on a lawnmower at Wrigley Field. Or you could be sitting in the dugout when an assistant general manager starts talking off the record about the trade deadline, giving invaluable insight.

All of that down time pays off in fantastic little nuggets that only the sports writer can experience, which I think, I hope, is reason enough for the 82.6 percent.

Hofmann goes on to perfectly explain how different things are today than when they were back in the day. Damn Al Gore.

These days, Conlin's current feud is with bloggers, what he calls "dot-commers," as well as sabermetricians. It really is a different world. I'm not sure what kind of newspaper beat man a young Bill Conlin would have made in 2011: wake up, blog, get to the park early, write a pregame notes story for the website, blog, write notes for the paper, Twitter during the game, spend only about 20 minutes in the clubhouse, file the game story by 11 p.m., maybe touch it up for the last edition, shoot a short video, blog.

Given the current demands, nobody is ever again going to cover a baseball team for 20 years. And the great irony is that the people who have the best chance in 2011 to do it like Conlin did it in 1971 are the dot-commers, like Stark at ESPN.com, who can stay in the postgame clubhouse forever, searching for that singular anecdote, before sitting down to write.

Pretty spot on. I've seen Stark lingering around the Phillies clubhouse and have to think it's a similar fashion to what Conlin did back in the day. Stark doesn't have to ask about details of a common game story, he can go after the minutiae that is really fascinating, like what exactly Roy Halladay is thinking when he talks to an ump between innings.

As mentioned before, there's absolutely something to be said for longevity. Guys like Jayson Stark get the better angles because they're always there, they've been there for years. The players recognize them, they know he's a baseball guy who wants to talk about the intricacies of the game. Players almost volunteer their anecdotes and wisdom to experienced guys like that. On the flip side, players often look at younger, newer faces like we should be getting the hell out of their way.

My first hand experience bumping into Conlin was not of him typing a column away on an archaic typewriter. Nope, the first time I ever ran into him in the press box down in Clearwater he was typing away on an iPad with a keyboard. And yes, he was using an oversized font. During the Phillies-Giants NLCS last year at Citizens Bank Park, he was showing off videos on his iPad like an 8-year-old on Christmas parading his new toy. He also really enjoyed playing the billiards game on that iPad, I recall.

I chuckled. Bill Conlin playing games on an iPad in the press box during the NLCS. (I was probably perusing Facebook myself)

Then I read his column the next day and was amazed at his writing. As usual.

>>The Bill of Writes: Conlin, the choice voice of Philadelphia baseball, to be honored [Daily News]

Former Flyers coach Bill Dineen dies at 84

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The Associated Press

Former Flyers coach Bill Dineen dies at 84

Bill Dineen, who had the distinction of being Eric Lindros’ first NHL coach, died early Saturday morning at his home in Lake George, New York. He was 84.
 
“Such a wonderful person, who got along with everybody,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “I never played for him, but worked with him in scouting. Just a great guy.” 
 
Dineen succeeded Holmgren as head coach during the 1991-92 season.
 
“When I got fired, a lot of our guys were squeezing their sticks,” Holmgren said. “They were tight. It shouldn’t be hard to play the game. When things got tough, they were a little under stress, Billy coming in, he loosened things up.”
 
Dineen coached parts of two seasons here from 1991-92 through the 1992-93 season, which was Lindros’ first year as a Flyer.
 
“Bill treated everyone with the utmost respect,” Holmgren said. “He was the perfect guy for Eric coming in here. That respect goes both ways. He was almost a grandfatherly figure for Eric at the time.”

Dineen served as a scout with the organization from 1990-91 until succeeding Holmgren as coach. He then returned to a scouting role in 1993-94 and remained with the Flyers as a scout through 1996-97.
 
Mark Howe, one of the greatest Flyers defensemen of all-time, played for Dineen as an 18-year-old rookie in the WHA with the Houston Aeros (1973-74), and also had him during his final year as a Flyer in 1991-92.
 
“He was one of the best people I ever met in the game of hockey,” Howe said. “He was a real players coach. Of all the guys I ever played for. Maybe a little Paul Holmgren, too. 
 
“If you lost the game, he was one of the very few people if you went for a bite to eat or a beer after the game you lost, you actually felt poorly for letting the coach down.”
 
Howe said Dineen’s teams weren’t all about skill.
 
“He picked people that were about ‘the team,'” Howe said. “He made me earn my spot that first year in Houston.”
 
Dineen posted a 60-60-20 record with the Flyers. His son, Kevin, played on both of those teams before assuming the captaincy from Rick Tocchet in 1993-94. 
 
A gentleman behind the bench, Bill Dineen was much the same person as a player. A former right wing who spent the majority of his six-year playing career with the Detroit Red Wings, he had just 122 penalty minutes in 322 games, scoring 51 goals and 95 points.
 
“I knew Billy for a long time," Flyers senior vice president Bob Clarke said. "He was a player and coach at the minor league level and the NHL level, but I think more importantly he was a really, really good hockey person and really good person.” 

Dineen won two WHA titles coaching the Aeros and two Stanley Cups as a player with the Red Wings. A member of the AHL Hall of Fame, Dineen also coached the Adirondack Red Wings from 1983 through 1988-89.
 
Three of his five sons — Gordon, Peter and Kevin — played in the NHL. Sons Shawn and Jerry had their roots in the AHL. 
 
“His boys are scattered all over the map,” Holmgren said. “Just a tremendous hockey family.”
 
Dineen is part of Flyer folklore trivia. He, along with Keith Allen and Vic Stasiuk, were all Red Wings teammates during 1953-53. They also shared something else in common: all three later  became Flyers head coaches.

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. – Villanova wasn’t ready to surrender its No. 1 ranking that quickly.

Despite trailing No. 23 Notre Dame for the first 30-plus minutes of action Saturday, Josh Hart and the Wildcats kept the Fighting Irish at striking distance and stormed ahead late for a 74-66 win in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center.

The Wildcats wouldn’t take their first lead of the game until the nine-minute mark of the second half, which would put the teams on the seesaw for the next few minutes of action. Trailing the Fighting Irish, 62-61, with over six minutes remaining in the game, Villanova went on a 12-5 run to close out its 10th win in as many tries.

Hart continued his spectacular senior season, pouring in a career-high 37 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out four assists, all team highs. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall each chipped in eight points behind Hart. 

Colson Bonzie and Matt Farrelll each scored 18 points each for the Fighting Irish.  

Turning point
Leading 68-66 with under two minutes remaining, a Kris Jenkins three pointer clanked off the back of the rim and fell to the ground as a loose ball. Jalen Brunson corralled the ball before it went out of bounds and was fouled by Matt Farrell. Brunson hit both free throws to extend the Wildcats’ lead to four. 

Bonzie missed an open look at a three on the other end and Darryl Reynolds was fouled after grabbing the rebound off the miss. Reynolds sunk both free throws to put the game on ice.

Big men on campus
Villanova: Josh Hart 

Hart kept Villanova in striking distance in the first half, scoring over half of his team’s points (19) and chipping in four rebounds and three assists. Hart continued his dominance in the second half with another 18 points and seven rebounds. The senior was 10 of 14 from the field, three of four from deep and a perfect 14 for 14 from the free throw line.  

Notre Dame: Matt Farrell

The Bridgewater, New Jersey, native had an impressive homecoming. Farrell gave Villanova’s defense fits all afternoon with his scoring and playmaking abilities out of the pick-and-roll, as he finished with 18 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the field and six assists.  

Inside the box score
• Both teams struggled from deep. Notre Dame shot 6 of 22 and Villanova hit 4 of its 16 attempts

• Notre Dame led for 30:54 of playing time.

• A lot of the game was played in the half court, as both teams combined for just 13 fast-break points.

Up next
Villanova returns to The Pavilion for its fourth Big Five matchup of the early season, as the Wildcats play host to Temple on Tuesday.